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According to a death certificate, 18-year-old Whitney Cerak died on April 26, 2006. Nearly 1,400 people attended her funeral before she was buried in her hometown of Gaylord, Michigan. But five weeks after the tragic car accident that killed Whitney and four others, a shocking mix-up was revealed—Whitney is not the girl who died that day. In an inconceivable mistake, Whitney was mistaken for Laura Van Ryn.

This case of mistaken identity began when Whitney, Laura and seven others from Taylor University in Indiana were heading home after working at an event 15 miles off campus. A semitruck lost control and barreled across the median and into their van.

Jennifer and Tom were driving behind the semitruck and pulled over when they saw the accident. Although the horrific accident left five people dead on the scene, one young woman lay fighting for her life. "We wanted to be sure that we could help anybody that needed it, and that's when we noticed the blond girl," Jennifer says. "I stood over her, and I kept saying, 'Baby, hang on.' I did for her what I would want if that was my child laying there."
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FROM: The Families Behind the Heartbreaking Mistaken Identity Case
Published on January 01, 2006

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